An American Family History


Big Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church

East Tennessee is part of Appalachia. At the end of the French and Indian War, colonists began drifting into the area. In 1769, they first settled along the Watauga River. During the Revolution, the Overmountain Men defeated British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The State of Franklin was formed in the 1780s, but never admitted to the Union.

About 1782 the Big Pigeon settlement on Kendrick's Creek was visited by two primitive Baptist preachers, Jonathan Mulkey and William Reno/Reneau.

In 1786, William Whitson [Jr.] and Abraham MacKay (son of Moses MacKay) were elected to meet with the Primitive Baptist church association held at Kendrick's Creek, (Sullivan County, Tennessee) to petition for permission to establish a church at Big Pigeon.

In 1787, Dorcas Jobe, Abraham Jobe, the Whitsons, the Whites and others petitioned for the assistance of two ministers to establish a primitive Baptist Church. Rev. Isaac Berton and Rev. William Reno of Buffalo Baptist Church in Washington County met at the home of James English on the Big Pigeon River and formed a confession of Faith.

December 6, 1787
Greene (later Cocke) County, Tennessee
Big Pigeon Church Minutes 1787 - 1874, pp. 1 and 2

The Constitution Now being in its Infincy and no Meeting hours or purticler place of worship we Assembled or met at houses Conveanent in the Neighbour-hood both for Publick worship and for Church buisness.

The indians soon after breaking out and being troblesom so that we were Obligd to bee Confind in fortes which rendard us incapibel of Conducting our buisness in a regular Manner but Proseading as Followeth. 

Meet at Samuel Jobs on big Pidgen River and after prayer proseaded to buisness the Church at this time being Distetute of officers and Not Capibel to Conduct hir own buiness for want of the same; a motion being Made by Bro. Reno for an Elder and the Church to take the same under Consideration.

A Motion Made to the Church for the Receiving of James Cave into Union as he had Movd to this place not having the Opertunity of procureing himself a letter of recmenedation; and from the testimony of some of the Breathren who ware formelley aquainted with him and from his own Acknowledgment was receivd into fellowship proposed to the Church to take under Considerration for a Deacon to bee Apointed in the Church.

The members built forts for protection from the local indigenious people. The forts included

  • William Whitson's fort on the Big Pigeon river near the big spring on Campbell McNabb's place below the Denton Mill
  • Abraham MacKay's fort on French Broad River
  • Huff's fort on French Broad River
  • Wood's fort on French Broad River

In 1794 they built a meeting house, which was on the north bank of the Big Pigeon out of large hewed logs.


Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796. It was initially part of North Carolina.

Early Members  
Allen, George  
Allen, Reuben  
Breeden, John  
Calfee, William  
Campbell, Ezekiel  
Cave, James  
Clevenger, Thomas  
Coleman, William  
Denton, Mourning Hogg  
Dillon, Thomas  
Fine, John  
Fine, Peter  
Fox, William  
Hall, Daniel  
Jobe, David  
Jobe, Dorcas  
Jobe, Lezeanah  
Joseph Huff  
Kelley, Joshua  
Lillard, Wlliam  
MacKay, Abraham son of Moses MacKay
MacKay, Rachel Odell  
Mantooth, Thomas  
McNabb, John  
Netherton, John  
Padgett, Ruben  
Prier, Mourning  
Reno, William  
Rice, Daniel  
Roberts, George  
Sisk, Martin and Mary  
White, Mary  
Whitson, Elizabeth  
Whitson, William  
Wood, Richard  
Woodfin, Nickless  








European and indiginous American fought fierce battles as the Europeans expanded their territory.

from Early Recollections of Newport and Cocke County by W. J. McSween

We now approach the organization of the first religious society that ever existed in Cocke county [TN], and the erection of the first meeting house. In the latter part of the year 1785, and in the spring of 1786, the Big Pigeon settlement was visited by Jonathan Mulkey and William Reno, Primitive Baptist preachers,

and their labor resulted in the election of William Whitson [Jr.] and Abraham McKay [son of Moses MacKay] (now called McCoy), as a committee to meet with the association held at Kendrick's Creek, (Sullivan county) in the year 1786, and petitioned for permission and the assistance of two ministers to establish a Primitive Baptist church.

Accordingly on the 6th day of December, 1787, the Rev. (Elder) Isaac Barton and the Rev. (Elder) William Reno, and others met at the house of Jas. English (now Ed Burnett) on Big Pigeon river and constituted, as they expressed it, the Primitive Baptist Society on Big Pigeon river...

From these old records and from this church organization we are able to extract the names of the progenitors of very many of the leading and influential families that now live in Cocke county. The following are the names of the original members that assisted in the organization of the church: William Whitson, David Job, Abraham McKay, Elizabeth Whitson, Lezeanah Job, Rachel McKay, Mourning Prier, Mourning Denton, Dorcas Job, Mary White and Nickless Woodfin.

A little after the days of the organization, owing to the hostile incursions of the Indians the members of the church, as well as other inhabitants of the valleys of the Big Pigeon and French Broad rivers, were compelled to shut themselves up in the various forts that had been erected in Cocke county and the church was for a time disbanded.

The forts referred to were as follows:

  • William Whitson's fort situated on Big Pigeon river near the big spring on Campbell McNabb's place below the Denton Mill...
  • McKay's fort on French Broad river....
  • Huff's fort on French Broad ....
  • Wood's fort situated on French Broad river...

The inhabitants, or rather the women and children, remained housed in these forts from January, 1788 to September, 1788, and then until February, 1789, and for a period of nearly ten years, there were constant raids and depredations, horses stolen and men, women, and children massacred by the Indians.

The settlements were protected by the bravery and valor of the members of the Primitive Baptist church, namely: Col. William Lillard, Lieut. Col. Abraham McKay, Maj. Peter Fine, Capt. William Job, Capt. John Fine and Capt. John McNabb.

Between the date of the organization of the church and 1800 there was added to the church rolls the following distinguished names: John Netherton, Daniel Hall, Ruben Padgett, Joshua Kelley, John Breeden, Thos. Mantooth, Daniel Rice, William Fox, Ezekiel Campbell, William Coleman, Joseph Huff, Richard Wood, Thos. Dillon, Thos. Clevenger, George Roberts, William Calfee, Martin Sisk and his wife, Mary Sisk, Reuben Allen and George Allen.

....In the year 1794 this church society selected a place to erect a meeting house, which was on the north bank of the Big Pigeon river on the land of Thos. Dillon and in the angle of the road leading up said river and from said road to John Hale's house...

This meeting house was completed on the 1st of October, 1794; it was built of large hewed logs, securely notched down. ...

It is a well attested historical fact that the attendants at this place of worship, and all other churches at that date, carried with them their trusty rifles and deposited them within easy reach until religious services were over.

Abraham McKay was the clerk of this church from its organization until the year 1823 when he was succeeded by his son, Jeremiah McKay, and the latter holding the position until 1845, when he was succeeded by Toliver Sisk, who filled the position until his death in 1880.

The deacons of said church were Peter Fine, William Lillard, William Coleman, Ezekiel Campbell, Joseph Huff, John Huff, and probably others.

The ministers of the church were Jonathan Mulkey, William Reno [Reneau], Thos. Hill, John Huff, and Thos. Smith...



Colonial Maryland
Colonial New England
Colonial Virginia & West Virginia
Quakers & Mennonites
New Jersey Baptists
German Lutherans
Watauga Settlement
Pennsylvania Pioneers
Midwest Pioneers
Jewish Immigrants

©Roberta Tuller 2020
An American Family History is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program,
an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.